A bright idea: KSU professor combines 3-D and solar panel technologies in new project

Julianne Calapa

With the advancement of architecture and 3-D printing technology, a Kent State professor created a solar-powered pavilion capable of capturing the sun’s path.

Brian Peters, an assistant professor in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design, spent last summer constructing the Solar Bytes Pavilion in Kent State’s Robotic Fabrication Lab.

The pavilion consists of 94 individual pieces, called bytes, made of a translucent plastic that allows the bytes to glow. The bytes snap together to form the arched pavilion, Peters said. 

Each individual byte features a solar panel that captures the sun’s light during the day, which is then mimicked and reflected at night by an LED light inside each piece.

“Let’s say, for instance, that it’s sunny in the morning and cloudy in the afternoon. At night, the pavilion kind of plays back the sun’s exposure,” Peters said. “So the pavilion would be brighter on the east end and fading out much quicker on the west end.”

Hapco Inc., a manufacturing company in Kent, provided Peters with the industrial thermoplastic extruder, the device that melts the plastic and directs the material into a designated shape, which was used for constructing the bytes. To ease the process, the extruder was attached to a robot arm that performed the 3-D printing task, Peters said.

“We were interested in partnering with Brian because of his abilities and what we thought he could have done with our equipment,” said Chuck George, CEO of Hapco Inc. “We were impressed with what he was able to do.” 

The Solar Bytes Pavilion was displayed at Cleveland’s Ingenuity Festival in September.

“Ingenuity Festival is a celebration of creativity and innovation, so we like to showcase projects that show things in a different way than people are used to seeing them,” said Paula Grooms, executive director of Ingenuity Festival. “I think the people who saw the pavilion at night were really intrigued with how it was glowing and where the power was coming from.”

The pavilion was recently featured in an article in Architect Magazine. Peters was also awarded a 2014 R+D Award by Architect Magazine for Building Bytes, which is a 3-D printing idea used in architecture. Peters used the same Building Bytes concept when constructing the Solar Bytes Pavilion.

“The pavilion highlights a potential for architecture and exciting new opportunities using new technology for 3-D printing,” Peters said.

Contact Julianne Calapa at [email protected].